AUTEURPRENEUR: How Indie Authors Can Learn from Indie Filmmakers
Valerie Woods

The great film director, Francois Truffaut, and others of the French New Wave in the 1950s and 1960s, developed what is known as the Auteur Theory. This theory asserts that the director should be the true author of a film. As a Film and Television Writer and Novelist, I can only accept this theory if the Director is also the Writer, otherwise, not so much.

There are certainly auteurs in film, almost exclusively produced independently, movies made outside of Hollywood’s studio system. These films retain the creator’s original vision and style. A prime example of this is Truffaut’s wonderfully poetic The 400 Blows [1959]. No one but Truffaut could have made that film. And no big studio would have allowed him to make it just the way he did. The haunting, non-verbal ending sequence would surely have been altered, much to the detriment of film history.

The key is: Truffaut didn’t depend on a studio to accept his screenplay to make the film.

John Cassavettes, an icon of American independent film, mortgaged his house to fund what became the award-winning A Woman Under the Influence [1974].

Spike Lee wrote and directed She’s Gotta Have It [1986] – the film was shot in less than two weeks with a budget of $175,000. It has since made more than $7 million. No studio.

Martin Scorsese -- Mean Streets [1973], Quentin Tarantino -- Reservoir Dogs [1992], Ethan and Joel Cohen – Blood Simple [1984], Ava DuVernay – Middle of Nowhere [2012]: indie filmmakers who followed their unique vision, love it or not, outside the traditional studio system, to create memorable films. This is a miniscule sample of indie films, but you get the picture. These enterprising filmmakers are applauded. Going indie in film is daring, courageous and innovative.

But indie authors?

For quite a while now, indie authors have been derided as “vanity” writers. Not good enough to get a publisher. Losers. How did that happen? Who decided that a self-published writer is less qualified than one who has a deal with a publishing house?

That would be publishers, I imagine. Again, looking at indie filmmakers, in the early 1900’s when Thomas Edison held the patents to just about everything having to do with filmmaking, if you didn’t belong to The Edison Trust -- a select group of East Coast film companies who paid for the patents -- then you were prohibited from making movies. But the first independent filmmakers decided that a little town out West, called Hollywood, would be far enough away that they could make movies and not be controlled by The Edison Trust. Eventually a couple of Supreme Court decisions cancelled Edison Trust’s patents and the west coast independents created the studio system. Go figure.

And now, it’s circled back. Studios currently have independent film divisions because they’ve realized that the Scorceses and Lees and Tarantinos of the world can make movies that can make money. Before that, indie films were considered B movies, cheaply made and sub-standard in quality.

But would you call Charles Dickens substandard? A Christmas Carol was self-published. D.H. Lawrence? Lady Chatterly’s Lover. The Adventures of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter. Ulysses by James Joyce. Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. Kew Gardens by Virginia Woolf. All self-published authors. And that was before technology leveled the playing field with digital print and eBooks.

One of the most successful contemporary self-publishing experiences is that of Amanda Hocking. According to an article in The Guardian, in 2010 Amanda worked in a group home in Minnesota, and had spent the past nine years writing more than 17 paranormal, young adult novels. They had been rejected and rejected and rejected. The story goes that she needed some extra cash to get to Chicago to see The Muppets Exhibit, and decided to self-publish her teen vampire novel as a 99 cent ebook on Amazon. This was in April. By June sales had risen to more than 4,000. In July alone her books brought in more than $6,000. In August, she quit her day job. Amanda made it to Chicago to see The Muppets. She soon paid cash for a new house, after selling more than 1.5 million books. At 99 cents. The film rights have been sold, and then… then St. Martin’s Press came calling with a four-book deal for $2 mil.

Is this kind of thing happening everyday? No, of course not. But are there indie authors who make a pretty good living with self-publishing? Absolutely. I highly recommend reading internet self-publishing pioneer, J.A. Konrath’s great blog A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing. If you are at all interested in going the indie author route, start reading him. Now. Ms. Hocking, Mr. Konrath and a slew of other authors, like indie filmmakers, no longer look to the established gatekeepers to grant them permission to tell their stories. And they are making a living doing what they love.

Best-selling, multi-millionaire, traditionally published author James Patterson recently posted an ad seeking government assistance to bail out the publishing industry, crying out that publishers, libraries, bookstores are going out of business. Who will save our books? Who will save literature? On his blog, J.A. Konrath responded: "Because without libraries, bookstores, or publishers there will be no more books? Of course there will be books. Will there be places to get books? Sure there will. And the books will be cheaper, and the authors will make a higher royalty.”

Writers write books. Not publishers. And like any good indie filmmaker, you do what needs to be done to create the best work you can do. That includes editors, interior and cover designers – basically building a talented and trusted crew, like indie filmmakers, and reclaim the author's independent voice.

Listen to Mr. Scorsese:
“There are no shortcuts to anything. I’m not saying that everything has to be difficult. I’m saying that the voice that sparks you is your voice – that’s the inner light.”

And I say, don’t let that light gather dust in a locked cabinet because someone else didn’t say yes. It’s your story. Capture the fire of your passion, and the courage, to develop the dedicated enthusiasm of the auteur. The author. 

©2014 by Valerie Woods

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VALERIE C. WOODS is a screen and television writer, author, editor and founder of the indie-press, BooksEndependent. See also: www.valeriecwoods.com